New Joint Commission standards expand influenza vaccination recommendations among healthcare staff. Learn how your hospital can adopt best practices to protect your employees and your patients

Fever, aches, chills, missed days at work. Flu season leaves many people feeling sick—especially healthcare workers who battle the virus on two fronts. Hospitals must not only take care of patients who contract the flu, but they’re also challenged with preventing their employees from getting sick.

“When patients are in hospitals, they are very vulnerable and prone to infection,” says Jane Englebright, chief nursing officer, HCA. “The last thing we want to do is give them the flu.”

That’s why HCA was one of the early adopters of a Joint Commission (TJC) challenge aimed at increasing vaccination rates among healthcare workers. During 2011’s Flu Vaccination Challenge, TJC encouraged healthcare organizations to reach a 75, 85 or 95 percent flu vaccination rate among staff. Hospitals were recognized with bronze, silver or gold awards based on the percentage of their workforce vaccinated.

The following year, The Joint Commission took its recommendations even further: The new standards now include establishing an annual influenza vaccination program for independent practitioners and staff, such as physicians, who provide on-site services at hospitals.

“HCA is happy to see The Joint Commission take a stand and make this standard for all healthcare professionals,” says Englebright, who is part of an interdisciplinary committee on HCA’s flu strategy.

The flu group, which meets on a regular basis, is composed of representatives from various departments within HCA. Supply chain leaders decide when to order vaccines and whether they have enough. The pharmacy looks at issues with the vaccine and debunking myths surrounding it. Human Resources determines how to communicate the initiatives to staff. And the regulatory compliance components make sure HCA’s efforts meet the new TJC requirements.

Low Cost, High Value

Flu Myths Busted

The Joint Commission shares these ideas on how to debunk common vaccine myths and increase your staff’s participation rate.

Myth: It’s not important for healthcare workers to be vaccinated against the flu if they’re healthy.
Fact: Even if you are healthy, it’s important to be vaccinated every year. When you work in a hospital, you’re always at risk of getting the flu and passing it to patients.

Myth: I work in a large hospital where lots of people get vaccinated every year. One less person won’t make that big of a difference.
Fact: The Centers for Disease Control recommends that all healthcare workers get a flu vaccine every year. Flu infections in hospitals and long-term care facilities have been attributed to low vaccination rates among healthcare workers.

Myth: Antibiotics work just as well as the flu vaccine.
Fact: While antibiotics can be used to treat the flu, they will not prevent spreading the virus. Flu vaccines help prevent the infection in the first place.

Expanding Vaccination Coverage

Patient safety was HCA’s initial reason for vaccinating employees. But the organization found the precaution worked both ways. “It was a win-win,” Englebright says. “We initiated the vaccine program to keep our patients safer, but it helped our employees and their family members stay healthier as well.”

Communicating with employees about flu risks and getting the word out about the vaccine process are challenges for healthcare organizations. You’re dealing with lots of employees who work different shifts in departments that are often spread out over large areas.

“It’s very important to make it easy for employees to get vaccinated,” Englebright says. “Some of our hospitals follow a traditional method of offering vaccines in a meeting room where employees can go during set times. Others have created mobile carts and taken the vaccines to employees, making it very easy.”

TJC recommends setting up multiple vaccine locations in high-traffic places such as paycheck pick-up, pharmacy areas or outside departmental or staff meetings. It’s also important to offer it at night, on weekends and during the day to make it accessible to all work shifts. Employees who work in patient care are obvious candidates for vaccination campaigns. But TJC advises hospitals to consider vaccinating all of those working in their facilities, including custodians, security, dietary employees, volunteers and students.

Englebright says that HCA requires students and vendors—anyone who is in and out of patient care areas—to be vaccinated. They also offer it at a lower cost to employees’ household members.

Keeping sick people away from the hospital is an important step in fighting flu. HCA encourages family members not to visit if they feel sick. Their hospitals provide get-well cards at nurses stations that can be signed and delivered to patients without exposing them to germs.

“And, for our employees, we really stress not coming to work when you’re sick,” she says.

Debunking Flu Myths

Vaccination fears are common, and the influenza vaccine has its fair share of skeptics. Overcoming doubters’ concerns is a challenge to any employee vaccination program, Englebright says. This year, HCA’s strategy centers around myth busting. (See sidebar.)

The Joint Commission has lots of resources on its website to help alleviate misconceptions about the vaccine—such as pregnant women shouldn’t get it (they should) and getting the shot can make you sick (it doesn’t).

“Vaccine fears are definitely out there,” Englebright says. “But the flu vaccine is one of the oldest ones—it’s not a live virus, and it’s very, very safe. We’ve found that if you educate employees and answer their questions and concerns, then your program is more effective.”

Tracking Flu Tests

Even with the most successful vaccination strategies, some people will still get the flu every year. When that happens, having access to reliable flu tests is important. HealthTrust works year-round evaluating products to determine the best tests available.

“There are a lot of ways to do flu testing, and we try to cover all those ways so that members can have the tools they need,” says Belinda Vanatta, assistant vice president, laboratory services for HealthTrust. “We don’t try to tell hospitals how they ought to test. But we put products on contract that meet our high criteria for being clinically acceptable.”

Rapid tests are still the industry norm, and they’re becoming more sensitive and specialized. Contracts with rapid test vendors often last several years. The problem, Vanatta says, is that flu bugs change and mutate all the time. “A test that worked really well 12 months ago may not work as well now,” she says.
HealthTrust’s Laboratory Advisory Board protects members from inaccurate tests by constantly monitoring vendors and their response to mutating bugs.

“We have 21 superior clinicians on our Advisory Board who represent well over 80 percent of the membership,” she says. “They’re out there working every day, and they see what’s going on. If there’s a problem with a test, we know about it right away. That’s where our value is.”

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